Dr. Barry Sears essentially started the fish oil revolution a decade ago with the publication of his landmark book The OmegaRx Zone. Since that time the fish oil industry has rapidly grown, but unfortunately much of that growth is based upon hiding some dark secrets.
Dirty Secret #1. "Our fish oil is clean."
You can run, but you can't hide. It is an unfortunate fact that every fish in the world is contaminated by industrial chemicals (like PCBs) that have been dumped into the rivers and oceans for the past two generations. PCBs are known neurotoxins, carcinogens and endocrine disruptors, which cause excess body fat accumulation. Stating that any fish or fish oil is totally free of PCBs is simply a lie. In the state of California a warning label must appear on any product if the daily recommended dose contains more than 90 ng of PCBs (Prop 65). The levels of PCBs in a single capsule for many popular fish oil brands would require such labeling in California under this regulation. In 2010 the fish oil manufacturers were sued because their testing methods for PCBs were so lax that many products exceeded the PCB limits of this safety regulation. Needless to say, the fish oil industry settled the lawsuit, and this year all fish oil manufacturers have to report the true levels of PCBs. Since removal of PCBs is exceptionally costly, it is likely that a typical one-gram capsule serving of fish oil will require warning labels in California.
When Consumer Reports investigated a number of fish oils in its January 2012 issue, its investigators found several national brands that were so rich in PCBs that one or two capsules would have exceeded the maximum daily intake of total PCB levels set by Prop 65.
Before taking your next fish oil capsule, ask the marketing company for the technical data on the levels of all 209 isomers of PCBs in the company's product. If they don't have such data or don't post their results on their website, then beware since once these PCBs enter your body, they rarely leave.
Dirty Secret #2. "Our fish oil is natural."
The standard way to obtain fish oil is to heat the fish to release the stored fats. The released fish oil rich in omega-3 fatty acids can then be refined to make omega-3 fatty acid concentrates.
Some marketed oils (like krill oil) are not really fish oil. They are actually small shrimp that are harvested, dissolved in gasoline (i.e. hexane) and then treated with nail polish remover (i.e. acetone) to get the final product. Removing all the gasoline and nail polish from the final product is difficult and rarely completely done.
To reduce PCBs found in all fish oils, you first convert crude fish oil into ethyl esters for distillation to remove the PCBs and other toxins. Yes, this requires food-grade alcohol (ethanol), but unlike gasoline or nail polish remover, trace amounts of alcohol are not harmful to you. (If they were, then there would be a ban on drinking wine.) From these ethyl esters you can then distill out the vast majority of the remaining PCBs, making it safe to consume (see Dirty Secret #1).
Some manufacturers then choose to reassemble the purified ethyl esters back into triglycerides, but the positioning of the omega-3 fatty acids is now in an unnatural position compared to natural fish oils. This essentially creates a Frankenstein fat. The vast majority of human clinical studies with omega-3 fatty acids have been done with purified ethyl esters that are low in PCBs.
Dirty Secret #3. "Our fish oil is fresh."
The freshness of any edible oil is determined by its total oxidation (Totox) value.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has set the upper limit (26 meq/kg) for Totox values in any edible oil product. Any level beyond that upper limit indicates product spoilage. Many poorly refined fish oils have significant odor problems. As a result marketers often add flavors to them and market them as "fresh". In reality the addition of certain flavors to hide the smell of fish oil will often exceed Totox limits of the finished oil, making it unsuitable for human consumption as judged by WHO standards.
In that Consumer Reports investigation of fish oil products, researchers found that one of the major national brands exceeded the WHO Totox limits and should be considered spoiled by the consumer. Yet the marketing of this fish oil product constantly emphasizes its freshness.
Dirty Secret #4. "Our fish oil is validated by outside third parties."
Many third-party validation companies simply continue the illusion of reporting only 7 of 209 PCBs (only 3.3% of total PCBs) to give a false impression of product purity. In addition, many of these validation companies never test the product after it is bottled to ensure that it meets the WHO standards for Totox levels. This is a violation of Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) established by the government for product safety. At Zone Labs our standards are higher because Dr. Sears demands it.
Dirty Secret #5. "You don't need very much of our fish oil to get the benefits."
Most fish oils products are very low in omega-3 fatty acids to keep their cost down. It doesn't matter if the price per capsule is low, if the levels of purified omega-3 fatty acids are low. Always make sure that you have high concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids, otherwise you will not get the full benefits of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation. Because OmegaRx® is so concentrated, it has the lowest cost of highly purified omega-3 fatty acids with the least amount of PCBs of any product on the market.
If a fish oil capsule doesn't contain more than 400 mg of EPA and 200 mg of DHA in a 1 gram capsule, it is no bargain, and especially not if the levels of PCBs are not exceptionally low.
To get full health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, you have to take enough. The typical American diet is so low in omega-3 fatty acids and so rich in omega-6 that you need a lot of purified fish oil to make a difference unless you radically reduce your intake of omega-6 fatty acids. Since these are the cheapest form of calories, they are now the single largest item in the American diet.
The level of arachidonic acid (AA), which is an omega-6 fatty acid, in the blood is the primary indicator of the degree of inflammatory responses in the body. The level of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which is an omega-3 fatty acid, in the blood is the primary indicator of the degree of anti-inflammatory responses in the body. You need a balance of both for optimal health.
Ideally, you want to be taking enough omega-3 fatty acids so that the AA/EPA ratio in the blood is less than 3. For comparison, the AA/EPA ratio is 1.5 in the Japanese, who are the longest-lived individuals in the world with the least amount of disability as they age. Basically, the lower the AA/EPA ratio you have, the healthier you are.